BBC Legends BBCL 4171-2 77:33 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
Polish virtuoso Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993) was a frequent guest of the Aldenurgh Festival, Snape Malting, Suffolk; and his appearance 12 June 1986, given when the inimitable veteran was 95 testifies to his popularity and his musical durability. A former student of Theodor Leschetizky, Horszowski mastered the art of tonal control and applied dynamics, producing an idiosyncratic sound of weight and infinite degrees of plasticity. We can hear the application of subtle points of rubato in virtually all the works presented at this recital, always as if Chopin or one of his acolytes were musing among the scores of other giants. If we detect a slurred note, a moment of dramatic listlessness, it does not detract from the flowing, refined affect of total immersion in the music of choice.
Horszowski’s eminently singing tone commands our attention immediately in the two Bach selections; then add the element of mysticism to the opening pages of the D Minor Mozart Fantasy. At several points in the program I am reminded of Backhaus, but the affect is lighter, the intricacies of Beethoven’s middle voices more in active dialogue. The Largo appassionato is not played particularly slowly, but it assumes a new breadth and heraldry, so the links to Schumann’s ethos may have their roots earlier in Beethoven than we had perceived prior. The middle of the Scherzo seems to look ahead to Beethoven’s later style. The Rondo: Grazioso reverts to a noble galanterie which highlights Horszowski’s music-box sonority and capacity to sustain an architecture’s virile tracery. Franck’s Prelude, Chorale et Fugue does well with the Poles: I recall fine performances by Rubinstein on RCA and Witold Malcuzynski on EMI, though not so incandescent as Horszowski’s here. After some ravishing strokes, there might be a loss of tension in the knotty, lugubrious labyrinths of the Chorale, but the Fugue proceeds, despite the occasional finger-slip., with limpid confidence. Schumann’s Scenes From Childhood may seem anticlimactic after the turgid emotionalism of Franck, but its ingenuous charms provide for Horszowski only fond, light-fingered reminiscence; the Sandman dispels all bad dreams.